Doing feminism and fighting for queer freedom: OvaryAction
interview with Val
Can you tell me first of all a little bit about yourself? How old are you, where are you originally from and where do you reside now?
VAl, 31. I was born in Montpellier, France, where I did most of my studies. I have also lived in the UK and the US (I thought that is a relevant info, since these countries fed my hunger for zines, music, queer -ness and pop culture and constituted my main "initiation" and introduction to all of the above).
I am now living in Oslo, Norway, with Ingvild, 30, originally from Arendal, Norway (we met in Seattle, WA, USA in 2000). She was there in and out for a year, with her band, Fake,(she plays drums).
What do you do besides your zine?
I am a language teacher (for the financial part of my activities... which does not imply I do not enjoy teaching, mind you), Ingvild works for a transportation company and still plays in Fake. The two of us have a weekly club in a lesbian bar (Sundays'r'Sindays) where we play riot grrrlz, punk, electronica...almost exclusively by women/mixed gender bands. When we can, we also arrange concerts of bands we melt for (Räuberhöhle, Motormark, x.lover, Aurora Plastic Monster, Juju Queen, Exit Iris). Last but not least, we have a radio show on RadiOrakel, Oslo's feminist radio (located in the attic of the Blitz house, one of Oslo's last squatts). The show is on every Saturday from 4:00 til 5:00 pm, CET. You can stream it: www.radiorakel.no. It's basically the soundtrackfor the zine. We talk about women in music, play news and old stuff, have interviews, spoken words, announcements, etc.... The show is also called OvaryAction and is basically the little sister of Babes in Boyland, another radio show dedicated to women in music I started with Stephy, in the mid90s (www.babesinboyland.info).
What is your zine OvaryAction about? What topics do you discuss most often? Is it written in English?
OvaryAction has different a theme every month (no theme being a frequent theme itself), but it's always fueled with queer ideas, pop culture, our experiences, thoughts, life during the previous weeks. We talk about music a lot, about communities, network, about stuff that get on our tits (and that's a lot) and we want to get out of our system (very cathartic!), stuff we love (also a lot...). We discuss gender issues frequently, now I come to think of it. This and music.
Yes, the fanzine is written mostly in English because 1st my Norwegian does not allow me to write what I can express in English 2nd I could try and impose French to Norway, but then the 200 circulation could be divided by...100 3rd it makes it accessible to more people, inside and outside Norway. However, the collaborators are free to choose their language... is that luxury, or what?
For how long have you been running your zine now? Are you the only editor or is there a team?
The zine is now two years old, since we started in September 2002 (after the Summer I moved to Norway). We are the 2 in charge, yes, but our goal is to open a free space for people to show their art and to express themselves. We therefore encourage collaborations and it's usually between 2 and 5-6 people submitting their productions to us. Everything is published, unless it's sexist, racist, homophobic, agist.... we have not had to face this problem yet, but we have been talking about what to do if it happens... and since we are not in favour of censorship, I guess we would talk to the person, discuss it, possibly react on the text/picture/drawing ourselves... I'll let you know if it happens+describe how we deal with it in practice, but I am afraid this kind of thing makes me so pissed off I might not be so "open" as I said I would....
What made you decide to start this project? How did you come up with the idea and the name?
We started OvaryAction because there were things we wanted to talk about, share with others + it was very hard to find out about good, small gigs in Oslo because the media are concentrating on big or traditional venues only -basically, yes, they do a crap, commercially-oriented job. Since we were going flyers hunting every month to try not to miss out anything, we thought we might as well do the jobs the media found trivial :-) The down side of this is that we have to be very strict with the deadline (oh, so un-zine like!). The fanzine is released in the first week of every month and we do not get much sleep the night before....
We named the fanzine after the Yeastie Girlz's e.p. released (a 7" since it was still the cheapest way of sharing music then) on LookOut!Rec (it's been re-released on a compilation cd of the label's first recordings). The Y.G. were a radically hilarious feminist, queer a-capella rap band. We thought we could use the pun too, as a tribute + we thought it pretty much corresponded to our view and the conception we had of what the fanzine should be... there was a lot of talking and drinking during this conception... it was on a cold, rainy afternoon, in Arendal. A Saturday, I believe. When I think of the excitement of the conception of such projects and the pleasure you get from actually carrying out, to see that for once, things DO get done, dreams come true ....
We've been told that the name was too sexual, too radical, too violent, too lesbian-oreinted... "excluding men too much"... that "it was just a bit too female and not very womanly"... by people who did not even go beyond the cover. I am wondering whether they read books and magazine the same... maybe it does explain a lot!
What was your first exposure to zines? How did you find out about them?
I first found a zine called "hello happy tax payers" at La Serane, a second-hand record store I used to go to in Montpellier. From then on, I was looking for them all over the place: especially in records stores, and then at gigs, when I was old enough (or almost) to be allowed in. I also found some on distribution lists, and so on... that was in the 80s, and I do not know whether I am embellishing the past now, but it felt like it was more of them around. even in Norway, where most people seem to have forgotten now even what the word "fanzine" is, there used to be quite a few. They went with the decade.
As far as grrrlz zines are concerned, I did not find them before the early nighties, in the UK. They were a revelation to me. It was really few zines made by women I knew about before that.... and finding these zines made me understand what I had been missing in this zine culture: female voices. However, when I read ZINES! vol one (V/search), I realized it actually had been quite an important of female zine editors, in the US at least... It might be a visibility problem....
What do you hope to accomplish by making and distributing your zine?
We feel like we are taking part in the exciting, free, open, alternative press network that this zine world is. It's basically about breaking free from all we have been conditioned to (or at least I feel like I have problems with), regarding your creativity, your spontaneity, self-censorship, self-expression. By making this zine, we're hoping to encourage people to take a pen, a pair of scissors, cameras, glue, whatever they want... to start their own zine, as we have been inspired by many others. Zines, to me are the ultimate freedom of speech, art as it should be: not segregated, accessible, liberating...
What do you love and find challenging about zine making?
having no limits, no set rules
What are some of the zines you read and admire?
It's not always easy to get zine, but the ones I have LOVED so far: HerJazz, It's the queer revolutionary disco, ugly duckling, YOU, utopia TV, Spitzmötz Planet, Things are Queer.. those are the first coming to my mind.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start a zine?
stop thinking about it, start doing it
Do you feel part of a (grrrl or general) zine community or network and what does it mean to you?
Yes, definitely, especially when we get a whole bunch of zines from Sticky (an alternative zine shop in Melbourne, Australia), or when we start long e-mail (or mail art) discussions with other people whose contact we get in zines, or at Ladyfests and other events like this... people end up pretty much knowing one another, or hearing of one another, or having a friend who knows a friend... it makes you feel strong to connect like this..and it repolishes yr usually low self-esteem/self-confidence :-)
The Grrlzine scene is especially strong, I feel, as a subculture in the subculture, and I actually think it created a new sonic boom in the zine world as a whole.. the early 90s was when zines multiplied again, were easier to find at gigs, in shops... I like to think it is connected, this riot grrrls movement and the amount of zines as a whole. It was probably also partly because of the media reports: more people got introduced to zines, or they grew interest for them...maybe it was because the "other "half of the population started their own zine..... but that might be wishful thinking ;-)
I am very interested in international grrrl zines. Could you please describe a little bit the grrrl zine community or network in Norway, or in Europe? Are there others and who are some of the most active participants?
There are now really few zines in Norway, and they are difficult to find, but I think that the scene is slowly, but surely growing, that people are getting more aware of zines, more interested, some are starting their own (I was given one called AE some weeks ago, it's a feminist/art zine by a girl called Linn). It's all very exciting. The info shop at Blitz, one of the 2 last squatted houses in Oslo, has an important collection of older Norwegian zines and it was fascinating to check them out. I saw a couple new ones had been recently brought there last time I went.
There are way more zines in Sweden, for some reason, especially on the feminist/grrrlz side. (r)agata (by members of the band Beyond Pink) is one of many. I guess it has to do with the population too.... it's only 6 million people in Norway and the Swedish capital only is 10 million... or something like this.
I think the UK scene and the German ones are quite exciting, as far as fanzines are concerned. Again, the Ladyfest are very important to check out/exchange fanzines and be intoduced to other scenes. OvaryAction went to Ladyfest Vienna last June and we exchanged a lot there. They even had a space where zines form all were presented... some kind of huge (well, the space was tiny, but the content amazing!) zinbrary for a week. A girl called Lisa was in charge of it. They all did such a great job!
This is also where we met Verena, from HerJazz (we had the fanzine workshop with her). She is so inspiring and so active and creative. She is planning on setting up a "fanzine reading tour" -'told you she had brilliant ideas!
Do you consider grrrl and genderqueer zines as an important part of a social movement? Do you think grrrl, lady, queer and transfolk zines, resource sites, and projects can effect meaningful social and political change at large - or do they have significance mainly in individual lives?
Well, the personal is political, right? and then I think zines are the reflection of social changes on one side, their voice, the reports.... and it also is their fuel. Ideas are presented, discussed, exchanged like nowhere else.
I also think that zines, by encouraging self-expression, open a space for individuals to "make sense" to themselves and others. It's about taking action, it's about exciting in a group as well, it's about bounding, interacting, confronting. All the gender related zines are especially relevant on that point since they question a subject that "oh so open, radical zines" have failed to face: beyond sexism, genderism.... And yes, I agree with Sarah Dougher, when she once told me that "the next revolution was coming from queer and transfolk especially." Zines play an utterly important part in this revolution, both in the theorizing and the practicing....
What were some of main influences that have empowered you in your life?
My mother and mother's mother as well as my godmother ... I know it sounds cliche, but it is a fact. It took me a while to understand some little things, like what it really meant when my dad and mum got into an argument because my dad wanted me to become a secretary and my mum insisted I should do whatever I felt like. Had they agree, I do not believe I would have become a secretary since I was determined to go to university to study in English, but we never know.
Veronique Pascual was also very important to me. She was my role model for a long time, as were some of my teachers and professors (Ms Maillet, Mr Toureille, mr Chastagner) and lots of people I cannot remember right now, or do not realize yet how important they were to me.
Bands (Bikini Kill, hole, Huggy Bear, the Raincoats, Hanin Elias, Cadallaca....), writers, labels like KillRockStars, K Records (yes, thanX so much to the "Olympia scene"!), writers....
Which role does play the Internet for you?
It's super important for information, getting in touch, because it's so wide and so fast, I especially like these contacts local scene can develop, it can be refreshing, instead of all feeling isolated, losing breath and hope on each one of our little fronts.
Through the net, we can have access to more information, but it's a means, not an end for me... and yes, the fight is on the street, not on the screen ("Get off the Internet!" LeTigre).
As far as zines are concerned, I like the physical experience of a fanzine over the digital one you get form e-zines... I basically think they are two different things
Do you define yourself as a feminist? What are the most pressing issues you are confronted with in daily life (as a woman/feminist/.)?
Of course, I am a feminist. Yes, I am "one of these", the F group, "the angry, man-hater, lesbian"... so, yes, basically I get confronted as all feminists, probably to prejudism but what makes me furious is to get actually hurt by these cliches, expecting them, not being able to break free from them..... and laugh. No, sometimes I cannot laugh at this anymore. I do not get hurt at "properly made-up" women telling me "it's the Ladies" when I push the door to the toilets anymore, but I still exhaust myself in endless conversations with men and women who refuse to acknowledge definitions for "feminism" are not to be found in tabloids....
I am tired of having to repeat "no thank you, we are having a private discussion here, you may not join us" a thousand times before we're finally left alone (and usually, it does not mean the bar is completely full and that chair was the only one available)
I am tired of being first of all a woman in the eyes of men I talk to and as a lesbian in the eyes of "straight" women (the boundaires are in your head, people!).
What do you think about feminism today? Do you see yourself as part of "Third Wave Feminism" and if yes, what does it mean to you? Or, why not?
am a feminist. I do not want to think in terms of divisions. I am not studying
feminism in its history, waves..etc when I am doing my zine, I am doing my feminism...
Of course, it is an evolution, the contexts are different, the fights are different.....but
feminism is feminism (this "divide and conquer" thinking can be time
wasting, sometimes, I find). What I find really interesting is this backlash phenomenom...
maybe it's rather the 3rd form of backlash, rather than the 3rd wave of feminism.
the ultimate "wave" of feminism actually comes form the queer World
and transfolk, in my opinion, since feminism is now challenging gender itself.
Feminism has always been, as I see it, about dialogue and actions, above voices
and equalities and I find fanzines to be the perfect illustration of these ideas.
What would a utopian grrrl-friendly society look like in your view? How do you think society might be re-thought and transformed to come closer to an "ideal" world for women, grrrls and queer folks? Do you have any suggestions for the development of women/grrrl/queer-friendly policies?
Down with gender oppression: this is the only way, the only solution, the only great challenge for society as a whole, but in a society that refuses to acknowledge sexism as a crime, I have few hopes for the immediate downfall of genderism. This 2 gender polarity (and hierarchy) is damaging for ALL individual and is just another way of keeping people divided and consuming in the markets they feel they choose
What are some of your personal wishes/visions/ideas/plans for the future, if you like to share them?
Start a record label, finish my Phd, start a new band, open a free publishing house, a fanzine library, set up more concerts and multiply contacts to participate in the strengthening of the "alternative network," write books, learn how to sew......
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Please, do get in touch!
Many thanks for the interview!
hel-kra [AT] online.no
can now hear OvaryAction on the net:
us your demo!!!